Here is the first “romance” novel that I have read. La Comtesse – Joan Smith (1978). Well, to be honest, genres are kind of a messy topic anyway. I think I have read general fiction and science fiction novels with more “romance” in them – if, of course, we are speaking of the traditional definition of the word. But I am certainly not going to define “romance,” either. So, this will be a difficult review to write and read if we cannot isolate what is being talked about.
Let me share a brief idea about why I read this novel. I don’t (in my mind) refer to this as a “romance” novel. I refer to it as a “non-machine-gun-pulp” novel. This distinguishes it from “machine-gun-pulp.” None of these terms are meant to be outright derogatory. I am very lazily looking at these two types of published fiction. One, theoretically marketed to appeal to a very feminine audience, the other to a very masculine audience. Both types very, very focused on the vague entertainment value other than any other sort of agenda or value. In the process of this exceedingly lazy evaluation of mine, I also have been toying with the influence of the French Revolution in every novel. Barring that, revolution in general. (Because when academics have nothing to do, we all talk about Vive La Republique etc….)
Please do not mistake anything I have said to be a serious inquiry. Really, its a boredom killer. I have dozens of these.
So, to the actual novel. I read this thing and it took a lot longer than I would have expected. My expectations were that I would fly through this simple-minded drivel quickly and it would be as entertaining and with as much depth as a 1980s Saturday cartoon. To my sorrow, it was a slog. Pages and pages of boring. Muddy, sluggish boredom. Nothing happens. And even when the nothing that is expected happens, it is even more boring than it should be.
The main character is a fellow is a member of the aristocracy. He is vaguely “employed” to help The State find out who this audacious woman, La Comtesse, is. This woman has been prancing around all the best places with all the best people and she is on the tip of everyone’s tongue and on the forefront of everyone’s mind. She is allegedly beautiful and charming and even a bit exotic. However, the fellow who employs the main character thinks that she is a sly, spying hussy.
This is the biggest surprise of the whole book: the absolute vehemence and wrath that this minor character displays toward La Comtesse.
In the end, La Comtesse is not really La Comtesse. And there is family drama. And she is not an evil hussy. And happily ever after, I guess.
Napoleon is referred to. A lot.
Its a clean novel -no sex or violence or cussing. But it also lacks in the very things that one would demand of any novel: good dialogue, intriguing plot, red herrings/misdirections, adventure, etc. So, if La Comtesse is to be this fascinating star and instead all of her conversations make her seem snippy and fickle, it basically tears the plot apart since the reader is entirely unconvinced of this supposed star of the Season. She is entirely undelightful.
I am not surprised that this was a tedious read or that it didn’t really interest me. I will not condemn it because it is a genre I dislike or that the plot is unappealing. I will, however, complain that it is unconvincing – and that, really, is probably one of the strongest criticisms of any novel. I am mad that it was not (and none of the characters were)… charming.